International Day of Cooperatives / International Dag van Cooperaties

The supreme need of humanity is cooperation and reciprocity. The stronger the ties of fellowship and solidarity amongst men, the greater will be the power of constructiveness and accomplishment in all the planes of human activity. Without cooperation and reciprocal attitude the individual member of human society remains self-centered, uninspired by altruistic purposes, limited and solitary in development like the animal and plant organisms of the lower kingdoms. The lower creatures are not in need of cooperation and reciprocity. A tree can live solitary and alone, but this is impossible for man without retrogression. Therefore, every cooperative attitude and activity of human life is praiseworthy and foreintended by the will of God.

The above quote from Abdu’l-Baha in The Promulgation of Universal Peace (p. 337) relates beautifully to the UN’s International Day of Cooperatives on the 1st Saturday in July.

The UN website says: “This year’s theme ‘Driving global recovery through cooperatives‘ focuses on recovery rather than crisis.  It aims to highlight the role that cooperatives have in not only promoting economic growth, but also in promoting ethical values – values which have been severely challenged during the financial and food crisis. It underlines that cooperatives can effectively contribute to global economic recovery and that they will  do so using their Cooperative Values and Principles.”

These 7 co-operative principles (from the International Cooperative Alliance website) are guidelines by which co-operatives put their values into practice. They are:
1: Voluntary and open (non-discriminatory) membership
2: Democratic member control
3: Member economic participation
4: Autonomy & independence
5: Education, training & information
6: Cooperation among cooperatives
7: Concern for their community.

And the ICA website also says: Co-operatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, co-operative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others.

Two sentences from the UN’s Director General’s statement for this International Day caught my eye:

The economic model of cooperatives is based not on charity but on self- help and reciprocity.

In the face of the current economic crisis, communities around the world are rediscovering the critical necessity to work for the common good.

Of course as a Bahá’í, I’m quite used to cooperatives since our whole Administrative System is based on cooperative decision making. As one of the many statements from the Bahá’í International Community says so clearly:

Bahá’ís attach great importance to cooperative decision-making and assign organizational responsibility for community affairs to freely elected governing councils at the local, national, and international levels. This hierarchy devolves decision-making to the lowest practicable level-thereby instituting a unique vehicle for grassroots participation in governance-while at the same time providing a level of coordination and authority that makes possible collaboration on a global scale.

(from Overcoming Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity in Public Institutions, presented at the Intergovernmental Global Forum on Fighting Corruption II, 28-31 May 2001).

So, tomorrow (Saturday 4 July 2009), just do 2 things: be cooperative & buy from cooperatives.


Service – dienstbaarheid

We had a lot of snow (20-25 cm) on Sunday night. Thinking I was smart, I’d left my car at a friend’s house in the village. I’d driven home slowly from a cluster reflection meeting due to a very dodgy exhaust which had already required AA assistance that day. I just didn’t want to risk the potholed road home, so my friend gave me a lift. And then it snowed…….


I stayed home yesterday, but couldn’t do that today. I really needed to get this exhaust sorted, go to a meeting at 9 am and stock up on some supplies. So, an early morning lift from my neighbour meant I started digging my car out at 7.30 am. It wasn’t parked that far on the drive, but still… took me 1.5 hours to clear it.  By that time there was no point going to the meeting which was an hour away (assuming clear roads and good weather). So, I decided to go to the garage, do some shopping, and popped back to my friend afterwards to clear more snow from her drive.

My friend S. is great, but she is 70 years old, and clearing a sloping drive of 20 cm of snow is heavy duty. She had done the area where her car was parked, but was about to give up when I came. So, 2 hours later the drive was clear and she could park her car at the bottom.

She mentioned that no one has ever helped her do this since her husband died 6 years ago. And that as a child, her parents made her go round the neighbours to see if anyone needed any help. Now, I don’t get this. She is a lovely warm woman, has neighbours (left, right, and opposite – all younger than her), and has been living here for 14 years.

Loss of community feeling? Or is everybody already fed up after clearing their own drive and doesn’t think of helping others? I really don’t get it – maybe I’m too Dutch.

True, I wasn’t planning on spending most of my day shoveling snow, but I couldn’t leave my friend, knowing that she wasn’t mobile with her car stuck in the snow.

I suppose for me it was just doing what felt right and being aware of the Baha’i Writings which tell us that  ‘Service is prayer’.

So, achy shoulders aside, I had a very prayerful day I suppose. But if anyone can enlighten me on why neighbours can ignore the physical need of an elderly neighbour, I’d be grateful. Meanwhile, I’ll just hope for not too much snow…..

Silence – stilte

Thought I’d left this blogging sphere? Well, it nearly felt like it I must admit.

My ‘poor’ excuse:  too much going on recently to find the time to blog, likeVisiting the Netherlands:

Visiting my family in the Netherlands. And yes, the ice skating fever gripping the country was marvellous.

Attending the regional Baha’i conference in London: exciting, inspiring, mind blowing, encouraging, awesome…


Getting the keys for my house in the village nearby – yes, I’m homefront pioneering and looking forward to it immensely. Just the minor issue left of selling this house…….but I’m sure Baha’u’llah is on my side and I’m pretty good with patience (hope my bank account is as well…).

My diary is filling up nicely with some trips to the West Yorkshire cluster (helping them to get ready for their Intensive Programme of Growth) and Oxfordshire (BASED-UK and BREA meetings), and hopefully the USA in May.

Anyway, I’ve just added all the UN Days to my diary, so I remember to blog about them. Did you know that there are many more of these Days in the 2nd half of the year than in the first 6 months?

And no, I don’t do new year resolutions, but I intend to blog more regularly in 2009. And just in case anything starts going pear-shape, I just have to remind myself of this (one of my favourite quotes from the Baha’i Writings):

Put your trust in God and commit your affairs to His keeping.

World peace & religious peace – wereldvrede & godsdienstvrede

No world peace without religious peace …….

The title of a column by Paul Delfgaauw on 15 December in Trouw (one of the main a Dutch newspapers). Its title caught my immediate attention and I’m citing (& translating) some of it below.

Jan Gruiters, Director of IKV Pax Christi (Dutch Peace Movement – website also in English), wrote in its newsletter ‘Vrede Nu’ (Peace Now):

Jonathan Fox deed onderzoek naar de relatie tussen religie en gewelddadig conflict. Zijn conclusie is verrassend. Religie speelt maar een zwakke rol in burgeroorlogen. Religie is noch een belangrijke oorzaak noch een bepalende factor in politiek geweld. Bepalende factoren in burgeroorlogen zijn veleer het type regime, de invloed van repressie en separatisme.

Jonathan Fox researched the relation between religion and violent conflict. His conclusion: religion only plays a minor role in civil wars. Religion is neither an important cause nor a determining factor in political violence. Determining factors in civil wars are the type of regime, the influence of repression, and separatism.

Volgens IKV Pax Christi speelden in vele conflicten van de afgelopen decennia religie en religieuze leiders een belangrijke rol. ‘Soms spelen religieuze factoren bij de start van conflicten een rol, maar vaker worden ze door politieke en religieuze leiders als het ware ingezet ter legitimatie van bepaalde standpunten of ter legitimatie van geweld. Een beter begrip van de rol van religie bij het ontstaan van conflicten, bij de ontwikkeling van conflicten en bij het oplossen van conflicten is vangroot belang voor een adequate vredesstrategie.’

Religion and religious leaders played important roles in many conflicts of the recent past, according to IKV Pax Christi. ‘Sometimes religious factors play a role at the start of a conflict, but often they are used by political and religieus leaders to legitimate certain points of view or violence. Better understanding of the role of religion in the initial stage of conflicts, during conflict development and at the final stage of conflicts is of great importance for an adequate peace strategy.’

De Zwitserse theoloog Hans Küng zegt: ‘Geen vrede onder de volkeren zonder vrede tussen de godsdiensten. Geen vrede tussen de godsdiensten zonder dialoog tussen de godsdiensten. Geen dialoog tussen de godsdiensten zonder onderzoek naar de fundamenten van de godsdiensten.’

The Swiss theologian Hans Küng says: ‘No peace amongst peoples without peace amongst religions. No peace amongst religions without dialogue amongst religions. No dialogue amongst religions without research into the fundamental aspects of religions.’

Religieuze leiders moeten beseffen dat zij grote verantwoordelijkheid dragen en zich bij ieder conflict uitspreken over het eventuele religieuze aandeel daarin. Zij zijn verplicht hun stem te laten horen en alle religieuze geweld te veroordelen. Religies beroepen zich altijd op de liefde, laten ze die dan verspreiden. En zeker moeten religies onderling ophouden elkaar te bestoken met ‘de waarheid’. Anderzijds brengen religies immers, volgens project Thomas, ‘steeds ook een sterke ethische en spirituele boodschap die de liefde voor de naaste opentrekt tot liefde voor de vreemdeling, ja zelfs voor de vijand, en die vraagt om vrede door vergeving en verzoening, tot zevenmaal zeventig maal toe.’

Religious leaders must realise their great responsibility and must speak at every conflict about possible religious involvement. They are obliged to voice their opinion and condemn all religious violence. Religions always talk about love, well, let them spread this. Religions should stop to fight amongst each other while claiming to have ‘the truth’. Religions also present a strong ethical and spiritual message about loving your neighbour as well as the stranger, and even your enemy, and this requires peace from forgiveness and reconciliation to the count of seven times seventy.’

This column just reminded me of the letter written in 2002 by the Universal House of Justice to the world’s religious leaders, especially paragraphs 15 and 16:

The implications for today are summed up by Bahá’u’lláh in words written over a century ago and widely disseminated in the intervening decades:

There can be no doubt whatever that the peoples of the world, of whatever race or religion, derive their inspiration from one heavenly Source, and are the subjects of one God. The difference between the ordinances under which they abide should be attributed to the varying requirements and exigencies of the age in which they were revealed. All of them, except a few which are the outcome of human perversity, were ordained of God, and are a reflection of His Will and Purpose. Arise and, armed with the power of faith, shatter to pieces the gods of your vain imaginings, the sowers of dissension amongst you. Cleave unto that which draweth you together and uniteth you.

Such an appeal does not call for abandonment of faith in the fundamental verities of any of the world’s great belief systems. Far otherwise. Faith has its own imperative and is its own justification. What others believe — or do not believe — cannot be the authority in any individual conscience worthy of the name. What the above words do unequivocally urge is renunciation of all those claims to exclusivity or finality that, in winding their roots around the life of the spirit, have been the greatest single factor in suffocating impulses to unity and in promoting hatred and violence.

Phew, deep stuff…… What do you think?

Mali and its treasures – Mali en haar schatten

Last Thursday I ‘travelled’ back to Mali, listening to amazing ngoni (traditional West African lute – the origin of the American banjo) music by Bassekou Kouyate & Amy Sacko, eating lovely Malian food, and discovering a member of the Coulibaly family (= my Malian family, it was the surname I choose while living there in 1995-97). All this due to a fantatsic event organised by the Mali Development Group and the Malian Community Council, supported by the Malian Embassy in Belgium. I will blog separately about Malian music because it’s worth it.

We listened to presentations about Fair Trade, Oxfam’s experiences, the power of Malian musicians, and environmental & climate change implications. I had an incredible good time because it brought back so many good memories of working in Mali in an agricultural project. While talking to Michael from the UK Fair Trade Foundation I was very pleased to hear a large amount of cotton grown in the Kita region (western Mali) is Fair Trade. In 1995, the CMDT (Malian cotton company) was just moving into the Kita region and we were very concerned about its effects on soils and land use.

It was lovely to hear that women farmers also involved in the growing of Fair Trade cotton and thus benefitting from the higher price for Fair Trade cotton. The following extract is from the UK Fair Trade website section on cotton (emphasis is mine):

Traditionally, women were not included in decision-making, but Fairtrade standards require the involvement of women at every level. The percentage of female farmer members remains low, but the slow process of adjustment is bearing fruit. Women are represented on the Board of each co-operative and, in Dougourakoroni, the statutes require that the appointed treasurer is a woman.

In Batimakana, another member co-operative of UC-CPC de Djidian, few of the women went to school, but 27 are now taking literacy classes. Women could only start to grow cotton because of the introduction of Fairtrade and previously were not invited to meetings, whereas now they speak up and their opinions are heard.

Before, the women were not invited, not asked, not consulted. We were sad. We are pleased now we are included at the same level as the men. We know that men can’t do everything without us. Women are valued now.” – Binto Dambile, Board member, UC-CPC de Djidian.

Besides the good news about Fair Trade products, I was really pleased to hear that the Malian president Amadou Toumani Toure emphasizes the importance of agricultural development for his country’s future. Now, how many presidents do you know wanting that sector to develop most in their country?? And by the way, did you know that he is not a member of any politcial party?

His comments reminded me of the work I did earlier in May 2008 as a member of the Baha’i International Community’s delegation during the 16th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development. The Baha’i Writings strongly emphasize the importance of agriculture:

Bahá’u’lláh states that “Special regard must be paid to agriculture.” He characterizes it as an activity which is “conducive to the advancement of mankind and to the reconstruction of the world”.

‘Abdu’l-Bahá asserts that the fundamental basis of the community is agriculture,- -tillage of the soil…. He describes agriculture as “a noble science” whose practice is an “act of worship”, and He encourages both women and men to engage in “agricultural sciences”. He indicates that should an individual “become proficient in this field, he will become a means of providing for the comfort of untold numbers of people”.

In relation to the economic and social development of the nations, the Universal House of Justice underlines the importance of “agriculture and the preservation of the ecological balance of the world”.
(Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 81)

Unfortunatly, world prices for cotton have fallen dramatically this year and many Malian farmers are abandoning the crop and thus a useful cash crop which helps to pay school fees, medicine etc. Other Fair Trade crops produced in Mali are fonio, karite (or shea nut), and mango, mainly grown in the regions of Sikasso and Kita. Very interesting, especially when you know that the karite tree, which is used to produce (shea nut) butter, is a women’s crop!

While I was working in Mali, cotton was the main export product. Nowadays, gold accounts for 75% of export revenue, followed by cotton and tourism. The Malian Minister of Culture & Tourism gave a very interesting talk, highlighting the importance of employment in the tourism sector, the increasing number of music festivals, and the improvements in road access and air travel.

Did you know that Mali has 4 UNESCO World Heritage Sites? Worth checking them out: Timbuktu, Djenne, the Tomb of Askia (near Gao), and the  Dogon Country.

I told several people about the work of the Nosrat Foundation. This Foundation was founded in 2000 by teh Baha’is of Mali to establish primary schools & junior youth programmes. This year the programme is also expanding into Senegal.

I also discussed the SAT programme after a comment about young people not being motivated to be farmers and wanting to leave the rural areas. The SAT programme is used successfully in South and Central America. An African version of the programme is now being tested and adapted in Zambia and neighbouring countries. I’d love to see this secondary education programme being used in French-speaking West Africa, but I suppose I’ll have to be patient.

Later this week I’ll write another blog about Lucy Duran’s talk about Malian musicians because that music and those amazing musicians deserve their own space/blog entry.

Slavery & Nobility – Slavernij & Nobelheid

Having lived in Mali (West Africa) for a few years, any news stories from that region have my automatic attention. And today I felt very proud of a courageaous 24-year-old woman, Hadijatoy Mani, from Niger. She took her own government to court for failing to protect her (and her 2 children ) from slavery.

The Court of Justice of the regional body Ecowas ordered the government – which says it has done all it can to eradicate slavery – to pay Ms Mani 10m CFA francs (£12,430; $19,750). Despite being outlawed, slavery also persists in other West African states.

Hadijatou was sold at the age of 12 and forced to work as a slave for 10 years. She accused the government of Niger of failing to protect her from slavery, which was criminalised five years ago.

The Ecowas court ruling will be binding on all 15 member states and will have consequences for people being kept as slaves.

For the full story, check the BBC website and its Special Report section. The International Labour Organization estimates that approximately 12.3 million people worldwide are forced labourers. That is equal to 2 people in every 1,000 human beings!!!

So, I did a search for ‘slavery’ on Ocean and the following gems caught my eye:

The Bahá’í Faith is the first religion to explicitly ban slavery in its Sacred Scripture. Bahá’u’lláh prohibited this practice in clear and unambiguous language. In the Kitáb-i-Aqdas (paragraph 72), it is stated:

“It is forbidden you to trade in slaves, be they men or women. It is not for him who is himself a servant to buy another of God’s servants, and this hath been prohibited in His Holy Tablet. Thus, by His mercy, hath the commandment been recorded by the Pen of justice. Let no man exalt himself above another; all are but bondslaves before the Lord, and all exemplify the truth that there is none other God but Him. He, verily, is the All-Wise, Whose wisdom encompasseth all things.”

In 2000 (Ridvan message 157) the Universal House of Justice said:
“It grieves our hearts to realize that in so many parts of the world children are employed as soldiers, exploited as labourers, sold into virtual slavery, forced into prostitution, made the objects of pornography, abandoned by parents centred on their own desires, and subjected to other forms of victimization too numerous to mention. Many such horrors are inflicted by the parents themselves upon their own children. The spiritual and psychological damage defies estimation. Our worldwide community cannot escape the consequences of these conditions. This realization should spur us all to urgent and sustained effort in the interests of children and the future.”

And from Bahá’u’lláh’s Hidden Words:
“O Children of Men! Know ye not why We created you all from the same dust? That no one should exalt himself over the other. Ponder at all times in your hearts how ye were created. Since We have created you all from one same substance it is incumbent on you to be even as one soul, to walk with the same feet, eat with the same mouth and dwell in the same land, that from your inmost being, by your deeds and actions, the signs of oneness and the essence of detachment may be made manifest. Such is My counsel to you. O concourse of light! Heed ye this counsel that ye may obtain the fruit of holiness from the tree of wondrous glory.”

Enough food for thought & contemplation for tonight, I think.

International Day of Peace – Internationale Dag van de Vrede

Today is the United Nations International Day of Peace. In 2002 the UN’s General Assembly officially declared September 21 as the permanent date for the International Day of Peace.

By creating the International Day of Peace, the UN devoted itself to worldwide peace and encouraged all of mankind to work in cooperation for this goal. During the discussion of the U.N. Resolution that established the International Day of Peace, it was suggested that:

“Peace Day should be devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples…This day will serve as a reminder to all peoples that our organization, with all its limitations, is a living instrument in the service of peace and should serve all of us here within the organization as a constantly pealing bell reminding us that our permanent commitment, above all interests or differences of any kind, is to peace.”

For me the Baha’i Writings are so full of lovely quotations. These are some of my favourites:

“The well-being of mankind, its peace and security, are unattainable unless and until its unity is firmly established.

(Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 286)

“Today there is no greater glory for man than that of service in the cause of the “Most Great Peace.” Peace is light whereas war is darkness. Peace is life; war is death. Peace is guidance; war is error. Peace is the foundation of God; war is satanic institution. Peace is the illumination of the world of humanity; war is the destroyer of human foundations. When we consider outcomes in the world of existence we find that peace and fellowship are factors of upbuilding and betterment whereas war and strife are the causes of destruction and disintegration.”

(Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith – Abdu’l-Baha Section, p. 231)

“The progress of the world, the development of nations, the tranquillity of peoples, and the peace of all who dwell on earth are among the principles and ordinances of God.”

(Compilations, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 156)

And to see how all these beautiful quotations work in practice, I suggest you go to Fleur’s website Valleys Girl and check out her e-book Just One Day: practical peace diaries from around the world.

Have a Peaceful Day!